You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience.

Volunteers Help Red Cross Accomplish Its Mission

When strong tornadoes pounded the Midwest last weekend, Red Cross volunteers from all over the area came together to lend a hand, the latest example of the valuable role that volunteers play.

When disaster strikes, the American Red Cross is there providing food, shelter and comfort and assisting families whose lives are impacted by disaster. Much of this Red Cross work is accomplished by a remarkable group of more than 60,000 disaster volunteers who are highly trained and ready to respond when needed.

During National Volunteer Week, the Red Cross recognizes these Midwest volunteers and all volunteers who enable the Red Cross to fulfill its mission.

One Red Cross volunteer who responded to the weekend tornadoes was Ed Schwartz from Omaha’s Heartland Area Chapter. A retired structural engineer, he became a disaster volunteer after hearing about what they did to help people in an emergency. He has responded to house fires in his own community, and joined other disaster volunteers from Iowa and Nebraska, distributing relief supplies like work gloves, food, snacks and water through the neighborhoods of Thurman, Iowa, heavily damaged during the recent tornadoes.

Midway-Kansas volunteer, Pat Hamlin and others, give out food and supplies to the residents of the Oaklawn community near Wichita, Kansas. Photo Credit: Brian Scoles/American Red Cross

Another was Mike Keim, a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member who also hails from Omaha. Keim was sold on the Red Cross many years ago when he was a junior in high school, impressed by how the Red Cross responded in times of disaster, both on a local and a national level. “I have the opportunity to help people during what could very well be the worst day of their lives,” he said. He was also a member of the team helping folks in Thurman.

In Creston, Iowa, Melva Hanke served as a Red Cross caseworker. One woman came to the Red Cross service center having lost everything to the tornadoes. With her were her five-month-old twins and three-year-old son. The Red Cross was able to provide the young family with infant supplies, clothes, food and other necessities. “When people have absolutely nothing left, to be able to give them some sort of hope, some sense of normalcy back in their lives, it feels amazing,” Hanke reflected.

2011 BUSY YEAR FOR DISASTERS In Fiscal Year 2011, Red Cross disaster volunteers lent their assistance at nearly 63,000 fires, almost 2,000 floods, more than 520 tornadoes, nearly 330 explosions and other hazardous material accidents, and more than 160 major snow storms.

Throughout the year, the Red Cross provided food and shelter to nearly 75,000 people. More than 20,000 disaster workers opened about 490 shelters and served more than four million meals and snacks.

BECOME A VOLUNTEER The Red Cross has many different opportunities and depends on its volunteers to accomplish its mission. Volunteers make up more than 96 percent of our workforce. Want to know more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer? Contact your local chapter or visit the Volunteer Match section of our web site to learn more about ways you can help people through the American Red Cross.